NEW PORT RICHEY — Relief washed over residents in the troubled Walden Pond Mobile Home Park on Wednesday as a front-end loader plowed into a huge, rancid trash pile that has been growing there for more than a month.
The mountain of trash has expanded on a grassy shaded shoulder within a few feet of several homes over the past few months. After failing to oust the residents in July through improper eviction proceedings, park officials removed the Dumpster where residents put their trash, according to New Port Richey code enforcement officer Liz Nichols.
The company that owns the park, Walden Pond LLC., has refused to clean up the trash pile filled with every kind of garbage a home can generate, mixed with broken furniture, televisions, dumped paint — even a pool table. Nichols said the trash pile is infested with all sorts of pests, from mosquitoes to maggots.
Park resident Orlando Baez, 59, was glad Wednesday that city officials came in to clean the mess.
"It's great. We were worried about the disease that could have come from that," he said. "Thank God somebody stepped up with help for us."
The operators of the park at 6940 Sunlight Lane, off U.S. 19 just north of Main Street, also have not responded to a series of code enforcement citations, starting with an Aug. 6 Dumpster violation, and four more for refusing to remove the trash and debris.
So on Wednesday, citing a serious health risk to residents still living in Walden Pond, the city stepped in with a public works crew who spent the day clearing the stinky pile.
"It's obvious they have no intention of cleaning it up," Nichols said.
The city intends to hold Walden Pond LLC. liable for the costs of Wednesday's cleanup, which is estimated between $1,500 and $2,000, Nichols said. If the bill is not paid after around 90 days, the city will likely place a lien on the property, according to Finance Director Doug Haag, who is serving as acting city manager.
"We've got a pretty serious health and safety issue there," he said. "If the owners for whatever reason are not taking care of their job to keep the area clean, we will do it and we will charge them for it."
Nichols' citations show two men listed as managing members of a company associated with the park also have court dates on Sept. 26 and Oct. 25 stemming from the mess.
The Florida Division of Corporations lists the registered agent of Walden Pond LLC. as a company called Paragon Capital Partners LLC. Both companies have an address of 3105 W. Waters Ave., Suite #107, in Tampa.
Nichols has cited Paul Beraquit, who is listed as Paragon's president, on the Dumpster violation, and Paragon vice president Sachin Patel with the ensuing citations of refusing to clean up the trash. Tampa businessman Santosh Govindaraju is listed as CEO of Paragon.
None of the men could be reached for comment, but Nichols said Beraquit in the past told her he removed the Dumpster because he could not afford to pay for it. And Patel has signed for a citation stemming from the case, according to Nichols.
The companies could also be in hot water with the Pasco County Health Department, as an inspection reported violations as well. The case is under review by the department's legal counsel for possible administrative fines.
"No park management at park to address the generated trash disposal. No measures taken to deter the stray and wild animals from tearing bags, exposing trash to weather elements, flies and other vermin capable of carrying disease to humans," inspector Mary Bayandrian wrote in her report. "This constitutes a sanitary nuisance."
The trash pile was expected to fill three 20-yard Dumpsters and another six-yard bin, according to James Bellino, a city public works supervisor overseeing the project. Bellino has been with public works for 10 years and said he has never seen such a mess in a residential area.
The park first came under city scrutiny in July when residents received a letter on Walden Park LLC. letterhead ordering everyone to vacate the park: "Due to decreased occupancy at the park and ongoing issues with certain utilities servicing the property, we have elected to close Walden Pond park, effective July 31, 2012," the letter read.
The park is now dotted with gutted mobile home shells and Nichols said she is daily combatting illegal metal scrapping and squatters.
Nichols said many people left, but as many as 25 residents are still living in the park. She said the remaining residents had not reported receiving any other correspondence from Walden Pond, nor has anything been filed with the courts.